Things we lost in translation: George Asakura’s love letters

Yes, I read mangas. I’d say this is my biggest guilty pleasure. As I have said elsewhere, I read mangas when I want to read simply for my enjoyment. Reading mangas gives my reprieve, which is why I hold on to this guilty pleasure stubbornly.

I read the work from George Asakura (and this work particularly) when I was a senior in high school. And yes, it is the love letters that drew my interest. It might sound cheesy, but I will not even try to defend my interest. It’s mine and mine alone.

Reading this manga was worth it for me because of one particular letter in the first story ‘Love Letters in the LIbrary’ I’m not going to explain the story, it is the letter in the story that struck my attention:

You are like snow
you make me white and cold
then you make me freeze
you are snow.

I still want to be close to you,
I’m an idiot.

Yes, that is the English translation of the letter. I have no idea how the original version sounds, but that translation was not the version of the letter that has been stuck in my brains for years. I first read the Indonesian version of the letter:

“Kau adalah salju.
Kau adalah salju yang menyejukkan dan membuatku
Dan aku merasa sangat bodoh karena begitu ingin dekat

Everyone speaking Indonesia would tell you that it is poetic. It was interesting for me to challenge myself whether I can translate it with a more poetic nuance. Here’s my effort:

“You are snow.
You are the snow that cools and freezes me.
And I feel like an idiot for desperately wanting to be close to you.”

Is that poetic?


The Story-teller…

Originally posted on Rolbos ©:



“I’ll be turning sixty next year. It is time to return to my roots. That’s where the fountain is.…”

Vetfaan glances over at the man next to him. Age has not been kind to his passenger – the lines on his face suggest a lifetime of hardship. Then again, most Bushmen tend to wither away like this, making it almost impossible to guess their ages. Sixty, Vetfaan knows, is a good age for these small men.

Realising he’s being stared at, the man flashes a toothless smile.  “I’ve come a long way and I’m almost there. Please watch the road.”

It’s usually of no value to ask a Bushman where he came from. A hand will point vaguely towards the horizon accompanied with a non-committal  ‘Over the-e-re. It is far.’ Never, in Vetfaan’s experience, has he met one of these men telling him he came from Upington…

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Friends Forever: Gray


I wish I have any idea on how and why we are still here discussing this. I thought this topic has lost its relevance. Apparently, it hasn’t. Perhaps because I still sense awkwardness in all of our correspondence. Am I reading too much into things? 

Now as I’m sitting here, typing these words, I just want to say that I’m sorry. I’m sorry for changing you from a best friend into an ex-boyfriend. I look back and wish I can kick myself. If I just let it be, we would probably conversing today without doubts, unfinished business, words barred.

But at that time, loving you was ruining me so thoroughly that saying it promised a relief. It didn’t, instead all of it spread within me, making all the risks and all the changes worth it. It wasn’t, instead I dragged you into my mess and ruined all we had forever.

Or at least until now. I consider you very dearly, and the fact that I cannot send you this letter perhaps speaks to this lingering awkwardness. But I am sorry, and this is an effort to go back to the time where I can speak to you without using niceties.

I’m sorry, my impulses threw us into a suspended state that took too much time and energy. And ended up not being worth it. Nor did it have closure. I wish I have your patience, then all the need to consult you on this would not be an issue. You can have regrets alone, but this awkwardness is ours to share. I take all the responsibilities. All the fault is mine.

Warm regards,


Surprisingly, I learned something from Singelloop!

I realize that the title bears a lot of explaining. So let me begin from the most questionable part of the title, Singelloop. To strip it to its basic point, Singelloop is a community running (race?) event in Leiden. It is celebrated annually, and this year it took place on April 11, 2014. The route of Singelloop basically surrounds the city canal/ boulevard, the length of which is aroung 6-7 kms. It’s a charity event (as far as I heard) and it is organized by Leidsch Dagblad, a local newspaper. I suppose that would suffice as basic information.

My friends and I, all the students in my class were registered for this event. It was at first impression, daunting. People I met in the Netherlands so far seems like they are mostly fit and physically active somehow, but I know I’m not. But also, it begins at 7 pm, which is nice for a shy person like me, until you realize that it is in spring, and it doesn’t get dark until 9 pm, so there’s no protection in anonymity.

As the day approaches, I started dreading the event. I have a tendency to back out from events, especially if they involve a big number of people that I don’t know. And to be completely honest, some of my friends did cancel their participation. It took everything in me to not back out of the event. I have never jogged so far. I have never ran in daylight. And I have never become a spectacle on something I’m really bad at.

It was daunting indeed. A friend, in trying to explain the festivity, told me, ‘It’s fun! Half of Leiden participates in the event and the other half participates!’ Well intended, but that made me even more nervous. Until I heard that kids participate in the event, that entire families would just participate and run. Until I heard that people watching will be there to give you support, no matter who you are.

One of the best part before I started running was knowing that these people are not just there to watch, but also there to support me in my effort. I never thought I needed support, I thought what I needed was only training. As it turns out, that support actually mattered.

The support mattered because it gave me energy to continue and decreases all my fear of embarrassing myself. I managed to finish, but that is not why I wanted to write this post.

I wanted to write this post because Singelloop proved me wrong. I was always informed that Westerners are individualistic and not interested in other people. Leiden has proven to be a completely opposite experience for me so far, and it becomes obvious in Singelloop. Through Singelloop, I got an experience of community, albeit a very different one. But having unfamiliar people screaming ‘Go!’, ‘You can do this!’, ‘Keep running!’ from the sidelines of the route was heartwarming, was energizing, and gave me a sense of being in a community. And that was more than enough to keep me running for 6 kms.

Me and my fellow students-cum-Singelloop runners

Me and my fellow students-cum-Singelloop runners

NB: want to know more about the Leiden Singelloop? Click here Disclaimer though, it’s in Dutch.

Exploring Berlin

On the 15th-17th of March, on a whim to make time to have fun, I went to Berlin with two friends. Berlin was not on the list of places I was really eager to visit (Hallo, Rome and Prague!), but I am very happy to say that it was far better than I expected. There is a perfect word in Dutch for this, het viel mee. Indeed, Berlin did viel mee. 

It was not that I expected a lot of Berlin. I was only excited to visit one place, Sanssouci Palace in Potsdam. It is a palace whose building was began by Friedrich Wilhelm I in the 18th century, and was mentioned as a majestic showoff of the glory of Prussia. After visiting that place (and assaulting my legs in the 2 km walk from the Neues Palace to the Sanssouci Palace), as far as I know I would be good. Sanssouci was worth the assault to my legs.

Berlin also was. But that is perhaps because we began our exploration by following a tour which happened to be guided by a history buff. THAT, I am pretty sure, helped to put everything in context. Because I think Berlin is only truly appreciable (I hope that is a word) when you understand the context. And yes, there is more to Berlin history than the Nazi regime and the Berlin Wall in the 20th century.

Notably among all the pictures would be the photo of people gathering in a parking lot.  That is not just some parking lot, 10 feet below that used to be Hitler’s bunker, where he famously committed suicide with his wife Eva Braun. Without that guided tour (thank you Sadie from New Europe Tours Berlin), we would not have been aware of that, because there’s absolutely nothing that stands out from the parking space except for a plaque 10 meters away.

So, do visit Berlin. Auf widersehen!


Sometimes i think the biggest gap between the two of us is the fact that you keep on looking at her. even when we are conversing seriously I could see your focus dwindling into nothing when she as much as passes by. It could be the Gulf War, the rise of fundamentalism, abortion, the faulty nature of nationalism — it could’ve been the secret to living forever, when she enters your head the discussion ends. I wonder how much of your longing for her is hindering the progress of the theory you say you’re formulating in your head. Does she also stop your train of thoughts when you are analyzing the politics in Latin America?

Sometimes I wish you do not love her with the intensity you do. Perhaps then you have a chance to become an international political reporter. Or at least a decent article writer for your own blog. but love has a way of destroying people even when (or perhaps, because) it is not returned. When you love someone so deep for so long, does it wear off at any point when there seems to be no sense in holding on?

But that’s the thing. Everything she does gives you sense in holding on. A smile, a glance, a chance encounter that makes a scientific discussion impossible for the whole day. To the logical me, it seems foolish, but who am I to blame you when I’m guilty for the same thing. And the better person in me is wondering whether I want you to give up only for my selfish reason.

You see, the thing is, in my head you have me. Me, the one who is even more of an idiot, because it is in your passion in loving her that I found my love for you. And in every possibility of you finally moving on, I find the sense in holding on.

Now that I think about it, the biggest gap between you and me is perhaps the fact that I look at you with the same intensity you look at her. It is destroying me so thoroughly that I’m wondering why are you still whole.

In memory of Muridan Widjojo

Muridan Widjojo

This photo does not belong to me, it was taken from Muridan’s personal page

I kept on doubting whether I should write this post at all. It seemed unimportant. What I thought and felt seemed unimportant. So I decided to just write this one, without making drafts or outlines or everything. And no, this is not a flash fiction. It’s a ramble, written just to make sure that I can get this out of my head and look back at this entire ordeal and see closure. Closure just in knowing that all that I have at this moment, I’ve put it here in this post.

Mr. Muridan Widjojo, I heard that you passed away. I don’t know what time, where or why precisely. And in that simple line lies the fact that I don’t know you that well at all. I’ve only met you once, and I don’t think we talked that much. But it was an impressive moment. A moment I wanted to capture, a moment that I hope I will always carry with me when I continue my live and hopefully my work.

At the bottom of it, I know I’m just a fan, I’m an admirer of your work, and I wish to continue it. I had doubts because I was perfectly aware that I don’t know you that well, if any. But now that I’m researching and reading your work, in reading it I feel like I got to know you better. In the process of reading your works, you became a mentor to me. You perhaps did not know that, and now you never will. I always thought that we would meet again and at that time, I will be more at the level where I can say that you inspired me. So with your passing I’m mourning the mentor that never was, and never will be. With all those selfish sentiments aside, I hope you understand that I meant what I said the first time we met: ‘It’s an honour to meet you.’

Rest in peace Bapak Muridan Widjojo, we’ll carry on.

NB: Muridan Widjojo worked as a researcher on Eastern Indonesia in LIPI (Indonesian Institute of Science). The goal of his work was to facilitate peaceful dialogue in the solving the problem in Papua. Bapak is the way to say ‘Mr.’ in Indonesian language.

Living and Fighting with Hope

Disclaimer : this is a text I wrote for a meeting last February. I posted it on Facebook, but I figured I have nothing to lose by posting it here as well.

When I think about hope and the act of hoping, I am turning against everything I learned in my college education. I’m trained to be a historian, a task that mostly means assessing actors with logic and then determine the logic behind actions taken, and so forth. Assessing and integrating hope into my line of thought is not a natural process, because hope does not always go hand in hand with logic (indeed, most of the time it goes against it). And that is why, the theme of the 2014 Papuasolidariteitsdag, I see as an opportunity to regain the capability of hoping.

Solidarity in Hope, Solidarity in Action: Perspectives on the Future of Papua
In my quest to regain hope, I consulted with friends from two different organizations who were kind enough to answer my questions, KNPB (Komite Nasional Papua Barat, West Papua National Committee) and AWPA (Australia West Papua Association). I asked these friends mainly two questions: why are they still fighting? And what are their hopes for Papua?
Why did I choose members of these two organizations? Because it gives me hope, because they are young people, of my generation; fully understanding the necessity of continuing the race to freedom. Most importantly I chose these friends because they remind me that we are not alone in our struggle, they remind me that in spite of differences in methods and ideas, we are all striving for a better Papua. And in that solidarity, I find hope.
When I ask the friend from KNPB on why they are continuing to fight for freedom in spite of every danger they had to face being so close to the fire, the reason is the awareness that if things progress the way it did until now, Papuans would cease to exist. Not that our presence is really promising anyway, ‘we are marginalized in our own land, our values undermined, our political rights and humanness ignored, our resources stolen and policies are immigrant-biased.’ But what struck me most is the statement, ‘we see no guarantee of the future within NKRI.’
Hope is mostly associated with the future. NKRI’s seemingly lack of ability or interest in guaranteeing the future is an important factor, in assuring that any hope of the better Papuan future would be achievable within NKRI. Consequently, the hope KNPB holds for the future is an Indonesian-free future, where ‘Papua is a self-governing nation, where its people are educated and free to determine their own fate.’
In asking the same question to the member of AWPA, I received answers in a similar, familiar tone. The friend addressed the historical unlawfulness of Indonesian takeover of West Papua, and the present concern that ‘we should cease to exist, or exist in the manner of the native people in Australia and America, that is something we want to hinder.’ What the friend was fighting for was ‘a living without fear of being murdered or tortured, in our own home or in our own land.’
These views, while they might not be representative perspectives of all young Papuans, are still very important take in, because it is in this circle that the hope for a better Papua has its most tangible expression: campaigns, demonstrations, etc.  It is important for me to ask them why they are still fighting because I understand that for the young, being involved in these movements, thinking this ideology is also a fight against the temptations of conformity.

The Young and the Temptations of Conformity

The perspectives given by my friends before help me considerably in hoping, and that is the idea that some of the young are resisting the temptation of conformity. That is the temptation to just ignore what is happening in our home and live life for our own sake, or the temptation of conforming to this grave situation and just go with the flow. Not that I don’t understand, I can see how living and just thinking of your own living until the next paycheck is considerably bearable than facing the almost hopeless situation around you.
But in the struggle for a better future which is not merely individual future, Papua cannot afford to not have idealists. I see idealists in the friends I approached for this small essay, fully knowing that they probably have been subjects to mocking for their stance, mocked for not taking the easier path of conforming. But what I have also learned is that forefathers of modern countries consist of these kinds of idealists, because without hoping and expecting for a better condition, nothing would have been achieved.
But what does this imply for me as an individual? I believe my friend Grayce Windesi tells more about the responsibilities of the youth in securing a better future for West Papua. In my case, the consequence of being an idealist is knowing that in this big movement for a better Papua, I have to find my place and excel at that. For as a young Papuan, I also, am holding my breath, crossing my fingers and hoping for a better Papua.
I am with my friends when they express the idea of a better Papua: self governing, safe, a place with access to good education and health treatments and mainly peaceful. All of those hopes are not part of the characteristics of Papua today. And that situation has to change. 
In quoting my older work, I remember Robin Osborne’s writing in the 1987 edition of Inside Indonesia The flag that won’tgo away , referring to the continuous struggle to free Papua. ‘The flag won’t go away.  Not only because we refuse to let go, but because circumstances had made letting go impossible.’ And that brings me to my point of conclusion.
  Why do I keep on fighting? Perhaps because I know things could’ve been better in West Papua, things should have been better than this. More likely, because too many people have died, too many people displaced, too many have suffered; so much so that giving up is simply not an option. 

Exploring Antwerpen

On an impulsive whim of a friend, I went to Antwerpen and spend an entire day there. I’m very glad to say that the trip was worth the exhaustion of a 2 hours trip after working on the deadline. It helps that people there speak Netherlands, Germany and French, with some English. It’s like being plunged into a pure European metropolitan city. And it is this variety that brings the Wow factor for me.

I love Rome. I think it’s charming because it’s consistently old. Antwerpen is different it takes you to very different stages of architectural development. It’s difficult to pin down the style that dominates Antwerpen, because it is made from variety. But that is my amateurish take, experts on architectural history will probably disagree with me on this point. I guess I should just say that I enjoy Antwerpen, and I hope you will get a chance to enjoy it firsthand too.